My palate continues to develop as I try the finer things in life. If you asked me 2 years ago what a truffle was I would say chocolate. Now I know the other kind…the funghi variety. So what’s the big deal about this dirty mound that dogs sniff for in the ground? Well in France it’s a HUGE deal and in Western Australia’s burgeoning truffle history it warrants its own festival. Potentially in five years time Western Australia will contribute to 50% of truffle supply in the world. So yes truffles are a big deal. I had the fantastic opportunity of exploring this delicacy even further at the Mundaring Truffle Festival Long Lunch joined by the wonderful company of my dad, mum and sister Suzy. It’s a rare occasion that the family enjoy five courses let alone have truffle as the hero of the dishes. Despite my dad’s initial disappointment that this truffle festival wasn’t a chocolate-a-thon, the excitement of olive oil on the table and fresh bread opened up the appetites. Here is the French-themed menu devised by Perth’s finest French chefs:
-Pork and truffle terrine served with a brioche (Xavier Pique – La Petite Ardoise
-Free range chicken breast, poached in a court boullion, set with a truffled veloute sauce and served cold in contrast with the chestnuts and truffle soup served hot. (Cedric Porcher – Jean Pierre Sancho Boulangerie Pattisserie)
-Lamb scotch fillet slow braised with wine and root vegetables, refreshed with green vegetables and truffles (Alain Fabregues – The Loose Box Restaurant)
-Fondant caramelised apples, served as a dome with a truffle cream centre and a gateau Breton base (Emmanuel Mollois – Le Bistro Des Artistes)
First cab off the rank was the pork and truffle terrine. Now I’ve had a few terrines in my time, which is a meat loaf similar to a pate made with coarsely chopped meats. One word to describe it….meaty. Yes I know not the most eloquent describing word. I am not the biggest terrine fan but that didn’t stop me from demolishing my plate. The accompanying brioche is a favourite of mine from Jean Pierre Sancho and is a must-have item at any breakfast catch up with the cousins there. The next course had the most amazing chestnut soup. The combination of the chestnut and truffles had me scraping the bowl to the embarrassment of my parents. The chicken boullion was dry and I think to blame is the mass catering required for this event that left it overcooked. I would have preferred eating the soup solo instead of using it to add flavour to the chicken. By the time the cute little hotpot was served I was on the brink of a food coma. The smell of the truffles when the lid was removed was earthy and heavenly. From the small mouthfuls I ate I found the Alain Fabregues dish charming just like the chef. He is a Mundaring favourite with the Loose Box restaurant being one of the most admired in Western Australia. I have not yet had the delight to the eat there but don’t worry it’s on my long lists of places to treat. Now my favourite course today had to be dessert. I absolutely love apple tart tartin and it’s one of the French dishes I have been able to conquer successfully. Actually it’s almost become a signature of mine except I haven’t it made in awhile. This dome version of a tart tartin overcame the challenge of matching truffle with sugar. Emmanuel Mollois who has joined forces with Alain Fabregues to continue the French revolution in Perth with Le Bistro Des Artistes made this challenge look like a walk in the park. The creme brulee style centre with the dash of truffle gave the dish earthiness that softened the overwhelming caramel. It stopped the sticky sweet feeling but it couldn’t stop the eventuating food coma. Finally, this all French menu finished with a cheese course. When the cheese platter was put on our table we were overwhelmed by the kilo of cheese in front of us. The stand out was the creamy brie with a truffle centre. Unfortunately this plate was left virtually untouched and mum was complaining that we should have taken it home with us. At that stage I don’t think we could have smelt, stared or carried anything else let alone our own bodies. Overall, the hero of today was the truffle and yes my palate is now more welcoming to this delicacy. But if I had a choice between truffle the chocolate compared to the funghi…my sweet tooth wins out every time. I guess I’m not that refined after all but that can change as I continue treating.
THE FOOD JOURNEY
Thanks mum and dad for joining the food journey.
An elegant touch to a long table lunch in the middle of the bush.
I recommend the brioche from Jean Pierre Sancho.
Amazing chestnut soup.
Slow braised lamb scotch fillet = a warming winter dish.
An apple tart tartin transformed into a dome.
Ending the meal the French way…with cheese.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged Alain Fabregues, apples, Emmanuel Mollois, festival, french, lamb, Le Bistro de artistes, Loose Box, lunch, mundaring, pork, terrine, truffle
So this is my newest style of blog – the quick treat. This will cover off any quickie dining experience that I may indulge in, usually dessert. So the first quick treat is at a newbie in Perth, the Heritage Brasserie where I crashed my friend’s dinner for dessert. Now I have previously dined here with my friend the food reviewer from The West Australian where we acted like children and ordered a fudge sundae with a delicious peanut butter sauce. I love peanut butter desserts; I could eat and talk about them till the cows come home. Peanut butter M&Ms, Reese’s peanut butter cups, peanut butter fudge…I could go on. Now before this becomes a long treat I will get straight to the dessert I ordered this time, the crepes with banana and chocolate. On first arrival I was slightly disappointed, the banana was caramelised and the chocolate sauce was in a pourer but they weren’t inside the crepe. I think I was waiting for the European style crepe that you get for 4 or 5 euros where the crepe layers are spread with chocolate and banana pieces. To be honest I could taste the difference. The crepe batter was too floury and thick and the chocolate sauce tasted diluted, which explains why one of my friends thought it was a caramel. Did it reflect its $12 price tag? It’s a no on this one. Nothing yet has eclipsed the 4 euro nutella and banana crepe on one of the hilly streets in Monte Carlo, where someone thought I was a local and asked for directions. So if you ever go to the Heritage, get the chocolate sundae for its peanut butter goodness instead of the bland crepes.
I made it! Finally after 3 failed attempts I walked through the doors of La Cholita, in Northbridge and got a seat in the waiting/bar area. Technically it’s not a bar area due to their liquor license so you have to always be seated but it is a bar area because then you can only order half the things off the menu (from starters to tostadas). Also you can’t order a drink unless you order food – confused yes me too. As my usual self was half an hour late my wait was much less than my friends who kindly and patiently got us in the cue to move 15 metres to another table. To be honest the waiting/bar area was more comfortable with it’s cushiony seats and I love my booths so would have been happy to play out the meal there. Alas, no we moved to the fashionable end of the room where you sit on uncomfortable stools. Why does fashion and comfort not go hand in hand? Let’s start off with the sangria, which came out in a lovely punch bowl reminiscent of house parties circa 1990s. My friend Fran is a sangria expert thanks to her dad’s signature sangria recipe. Papa’s sangria is amazing, the colour is this beautiful reddish/purpleish/pinkish and it looks as it tastes, amazing! It transports you on a hot summer’s night to a small bar in Italy where the locals know everyone’s name and everyone is drinking their sangria and just talking about how delicious it is. We don’t have to go all the way to Italy for that as this takes place in Fran’s living room but that’s Papa’s sangria, so rustic and homely that you do feel like your in that bar where Papa first learnt how to make it. Fran’s verdict, La Cholita’s sangria was too zesty, which made it not as easy to drink. She found it that difficult that she didn’t finish it. I didn’t mind the extra tanginess but if I had a choice between Papa and La Cholita in the battle for the best Sangria, Papa would win hands down like a red cloth to a raging bull. In my last blog I spoke about this Tex/Mex phase taking hold of Melbourne and finally catching on in Perth. La Cholita is a great concept with an extensive Tequila list and a variety of what appears to be authentic Mexican food items. However, what I need to understand from La Cholita which goes back to what I was saying in the beginning – is it a bar or a restaurant? Because the list of tequila was far longer than the list of food items. I’ll answer this as I dissect the food. We first started off with starters (funny that) – the guacamole dip was yummy with smashing of avocado but it lacked the kick of lemon juice. The salsa dip was also tasty but could have had the wow factor by adding chopped chilli. The octopus was pleasantly chargrilled giving it an awesome earthy flavour and the potato was a nice accompaniment. That was my favourite dish of the night. From here it takes a nose dive, one of the flavour kind. We each ordered a taco – I was so happy to reunite with my pork and pineapple combination from m 2008 Cabo San Lucas trip. I was not disappointed. I wish I had ordered 3 more of those than ordering the ‘big things’ off the menu. The chicken was probably the biggest disappointment. My friend Kristen who had been to La Cholita a couple times before remembered a different chicken to the one we had. She was the first to say the dreaded word no restaurant owner/chef wants to hear, BLAND. We all had to agree with her and out came the chilli sauces, we may have emptied the bottle. A part of me thinks they have dumbed down the flavours, thinking us Perthians can’t take the heat but in doing so that chicken is left drowning in a watered down paste. The beef was cooked medium with a salsa to accompany but it didn’t transport me to Mexico. Those flavours reminded me that I was still in Perth, paying a lot for Mexican food. The sides of rice, tortilla and refried beans were summed up by my friend Kirsty, it was just like Old El Paso that you get from the supermarket. I felt let down. I am confused at what La Cholita is trying to be – what is the point of having a waiting area when the restaurant area only has an extra 8 items. As I said, La Cholita is a great small bar concept with a restaurant license. I understand Perth liquor licences are complicated and this is possibly the only licence that would let them operate. BUT the menu speaks like a small bar menu. I wonder if we got the chef on the wrong night, maybe he wasn’t tasting the food he was putting out. All I will say is when I go for Mexican food, I want that explosion, that zing, that wow factor that Mexican food is known for. I don’t want to be piling on sauces and condiments because the chef forgot to. I like that this Tex/Mex phase is starting in Perth but would I wait an hour for a table just to order from 8 extra items, probably not. You might see my bum in the waiting area in the comfort of a booth but it will be awhile before I sit uncomfortably in those stools again. I’m looking forward to trying another addition with El Publico, hitting up the Beaufort strip. Hopefully it packs in flavours and not just the crowds unlike its amigo La Cholita.
I am loving this current mex/tex/rex/etc phase that is hitting Perth, inspired from the laneways of Melbourne, further inspired from the actual location of South and Central America without the Northern American touch of Taco Bell. Now don’t get me wrong I love me some Taco Bell, why wouldn’t you for under $3 you can get a burrito, nachos and a taco thanks to their 99 cent menu. When I was living in the USA back when the Aussie dollar was only worth 63 cents, Taco Bell was a staple. Now with the Aussie dollar at $1.05 (weakest in 7 weeks) it would have made that $3 even cheaper. Though Taco Bell is low in dollars it’s high in kilos, so your wallet and body gets heavier. I love my mum’s version of Mexican, spices from her mother country Lebanon she adds a dash of cumin while she sautees the onions and garlic, bit of mixed spice for extra flavour and Meemo Khouri’s healthy touch of putting as many vegetables in that chilli con carne. She marries kidney beans, onions and mince with zucchini and then the wrap (wholewheat of course)/burrito is given more love with avocado, chopped tomato, spinach and carrot to make a rainbow burrito. Use your imagination – add some snow peas or even bean sprouts for crunch. This healthy and delicious meal definately has me back for seconds. It does make going out for Mexican tricky business, with the standard and sloppy fake looking mince tacos topped with sour cream, random red sauce and shredded lettuce no longer satisfying. So me and Taco Bell have grown apart what with me being in Perth and Taco Bell unable to get a visa here makes this long distance relationship challenging. So I am left with Perth’s overpriced Mexican fare, shout out to Sante Fe Subiaco if it wasn’t for $2 Tuesday tacos you would not see me in there. On a random visit to Cabos San Lucas a popular place for celebrities to hang out – think Jennifer Aniston and Adam Sandler not that I stayed in the same resort as them. I’m guessing there’s was 5 stars and mine was 3 stars but still pretty amazing with a pool and overlooking the beach. To think that a week before Beyonce partied there – yes it’s true New Idea told me so. This is all besides the point, the food we came across was cheap and delicious. A favourite combination of mine was pork and pineapple, the irony was that my meal came from a chain restaurant in Mexico. This flavour combination was (to quote Manu) a marriage in heaven. I think about it till this day but have yet to find it in Perth. I have ranted and raved quite a lot about this blog but I am very close to a lot of latinas out there, Jennifer Lopez, Gloria Estefan, Ricky Martin, Enrique Iglesias and Pitbull are ones that come to mind. So this won’t be the last time I blog about this cuisine and the rate Perth is popping out Mexican restaurants (2 in less than 6 months I rest my case) there will be more talk about burritos, nachos, fajitas but finally our vocab for this cuisine will expand. As you can tell I might need to do a bit more research, i.e. more eating to really master and understand the foods from such a massive area. I will not let the 4 year olds out there be the only ones speaking Spanish (thanks Dora), I too will say hola, gracias and per favour. As you can tell those were the only Spanish words I picked up in Mexico, which puzzled the locals who thought I was from there. I digress, back to the food. All this time I wanted to talk about my Melbourne experience with Mexican food and on my long list of food I was so excited to go to Mamasitas. This restaurant takes no bookings, it’s 10pm on a Friday night and we were told there was another 1 hour and half wait. So we….did not wait and went to Chin Chin instead which I will treat about another time. I will mention Newmarket Hotel in St Kilda, which with it’s cool industrial interior would fit perfectly in Subiaco or Mt Lawley. Sadly it’s all the way in St Kilda. I was with a vegetarian friend so we kept the options to that and why not because the quinoa and zucchini salad was amazing. I actually now make it for lunch (add a few more vegetables – I am my mother’s daughter after all), squeeze of lemon, add some parsley and bang a lunch that packs flavour and is healthy. To quote Justin Timberlake, ‘Senorita I feel for you. You deal with things that you don’t have to’ – as you can tell Justin was writing about me. I have to deal with overpriced Mexican food, I can’t even get the pretend $3 kind but watch this space….on Friday I am going to give La Cholita in Northbridge a go finally! As this fad is in full motion in my three attempts to eat there I have been turned away (or told to wait for more than 2 hours – same same but different). Not anymore amigos – on Friday I will do what’s never been done before (by me) stick it out for the wait and have my Mexican food (even if it might be overpriced) and get a taste of Melbourne/Mexico that I dearly miss. Hasta la vista baby!
One of my favourite rituals on a Saturday or Sunday morning is brunch so it’s no surprise that dim sum is a-ok in my books. Today’s treat is an array of different places I have had the pleasure of dim summing.
1. New Moon - 63-65 James Street Northbridge
I was first introduced to dim sum as a teenager as I tagged along to my dad’s visits to his accountant in Northbridge. It was a ritual that happened every few months and I have fond memories of waiting in the stuffy reception area for my dad knowing that shortly we would be having a father and daughter lunch. The traditional routine was getting a continental roll at Re Store, which on a Saturday is always full of people getting their ham and prosciutto on. As I got older my dad and I became more adventurous stepping out of our comfort zone and letting curiosity take the better of us. There was one restaurant we would walk by that was in a constant state of busy. One day we couldn’t take it any longer and had to find out why there were so many people and this is where my love affair with dim sum began. It was here at the Oriental Inn (now known as New Moon) that my dad and I had frozen stares as the waiters walked around with all these different dishes. As the waiters came by with an array of squidgy items, unidentifiable meats and luscious greens – the strategy for my dad and I was ask no questions and say yes to any dish that comes around. When we did ask this is what we found ourselves eating – chicken feet, tripe, gai lan (from that point in time dad started growing it in his garden), deep fried squid, prawn dumplings and one of my favourites to this day, the prawn rice flour roll. Since this discovery I have happily introduced cousins and friends to this dining experience and have also been shown new dim sum places to try. I have ventured away from this place as I discovered a mine of dim sum restaurants in Northbridge and so have constantly cheated on the Oriental Inn.
2. Marigold Restaurant
This was introduced to me by my Sydney-sider friend Bron who said this was the must-go dim sum restaurant in Sydney. We arrived quite early at 9.30am and by 10am the restaurant was packed to the rafters. In it’s new premises on George St the restaurant covers 2 levels, one dedicated to dim sum and the second is a restaurant that also caters for the overfill of the weekend dim sum crowd. The waiters come by frequently with an array of dishes – I get my usual prawn rice flour roll and also try new items like a spinach and eggplant dumpling. This dining experience stands out to me because of the gai lan – boy do I love my Chinese broccoli even more now when they steam it right at your table and serve it fresh to you. I have returned three times since and always get pleasure in seeing my gai lan freshly steamed. Another memory keeper is the egg tart – can’t say I have always been the biggest fan but this won me over. The way the pastry crumbled smoothly in your mouth and the gooey egg custard was an eating experience I will never forget. If I lived in Sydney this would be my go to place for dim sum. I haven’t tried any others but if it ain’t broke why fix it so will keep returning there.
3. Din Tai Fung- Canton Road, Hong Kong
This was my first experience of dining at a Michelin star restaurant, yes the one star counts. This Taiwanese chain does not fail to disappoint for an amazing dim sum feast. A special mention to the shanghai dumplings that you sip the soup and then munch on the meat for being an interesting taste sensation. The prices are reasonable considering the reputation that Michelin star restaurants behold. The variety on offer was great for my vegetarian friend. My first experience I was dining in a group of 10 and without much wait we were seated promptly with service and food being top notch. The second experience at the same Din Tai Fung was a little bit mixed, our group 4 did have to wait but waiting is not a new concept at this restaurant. The dumplings were as always delicious and we greedily all ordered beef brisket soups, no longer wanting the dim sum sharing experience. This is where the sad twist happens, as I got to the end of my soup in horror I found a bug. This was promptly taken care of and removed from the bill but it was a reality check for me – even the Michelin star restaurants struggle with the bug battle. This won’t stop me from eating at a Din Tai Fung again if I was in Hong Kong or Singapore for that matter. However, I probably would skip the one in Sydney because it is more expensive and frankly I prefer places like Marigold which has your back to basics dim sum fare.
4. Some random hole in the wall in San Francisco’s Chinatown
I cannot end this treat without mentioning this random place we stumbled upon in San Fran when the hills became too much and we needed a breather and a carbo load. Not only is San Fran’s Chinatown impressive but they do an impressively cheap and delicious dim sum. Normally you could be spending $4 to $10 dollars on prawn dumplings but here they were for the deliciously low price of $1.40. Even with the bad exchange rate at the time (just my luck the AUD conversion was 0.68 USD) it was a cheap recovery meal for all the walking we were doing.
Keep following the treats as I explore the local fare and produce of my hometown Perth. So far it’s been greatly ignored but home is where the heart is and where most of my treating is done.
Freshly steamed gail lan…..just one of a few of my favourite things.